An internal inquiry conducted by the Chhattisgarh police has found no evidence that Alban Toppo, a 24-year-old lawyer of Raipur, was detained against his will and violently assaulted at the Bhairamgarh police station, Bijapur.
“The report was prepared in response to a show cause notice issued by the National Human Rights Commission,” said Additional Superintendent of Police B.P. Rajbhanu, principal author of the report, in a telephonic interview with The Hindu. “We have found no evidence to support Mr. Toppo’s claims.”
Both the NHRC and the Bar Council say they are yet to receive the report.
In a widely circulated letter, Mr. Toppo claimed that on December 10, 2009, while accompanying a client, he was detained by Thana in-charge K.S. Nand at the Bhairamgarh station. He “started abusing me with slur and offensive language, which was followed by beatings with a thick bamboo stick and a hard rubber cane. He was continuously slapping me while pulling my hair and kicking me severely.” Photographs of Mr Toppo, made available to The Hindu, reveal vivid bruises across his arms and back.
The police, however, dispute his claims. “We have a letter, signed by Mr. Toppo, in which he states that he stayed at the police station out of choice, as it was late evening and there was no safe mode of transport,” Mr. Rajbhanu said. “Further, there is no medical certificate to back his claims that he was beaten.”
“The police forced me to sign a false statement,” Mr. Toppo said. “I was beaten and then forced to sign a letter stating I was staying at the station of my free will. It is hard to resist such pressure when surrounded by 20-30 policemen in a thana.”
In an interview with The Hindu, Mr. Toppo said he stood by his letter. He said he visited the Ambedkar Hospital for a medical examination, but was told that the examination would be conducted in the presence of the police. However, he refused to go as he was scared of police reprisals.
“It is unrealistic to expect a victim of police brutality to file a first information report at the same station where he was assaulted,” said Sudha Bharadwaj, an advocate at the Bilaspur High Court, Chhattisgarh. “In such cases where the staff of a thana is involved, the police must suspend the accused before conducting an enquiry.”
“Thana in-charge Nand has not been suspended,” confirmed Avinash Mohanty, Superintendent of Police, Bijapur. “Suspension is made in situations when we believe that the officer may intervene in the progress of the enquiry. This is not such a case.”
The Alban Toppo case has acquired a larger significance at a time when the Chhattisgarh police are under scrutiny for their role in the Gompad incident, in which villagers claim the police killed 9 innocent Adivasis in an anti-naxal operation.